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Business

The Polluter Pays

The European Parliament has approved a law which will force firms to cover the expense of collecting, dismantling and recycling electrical goods.

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Dumped electrical waste is a danger to health

It started with cars, then with fridges. On Wednesday, everything from toasters to steam irons will fall under the scope of the EU’s enegetic push for recycling.

The European Parliament approved a law on Wednesday thought to be Europe’s biggest boost to recycling, a directive which will change the way governments, businesses and consumers deal with with the tonnes of rubbish discarded by European citizens.

The draft law which is now subject to final approval by EU governments, will force manufacturers of electrical and electronic goods household and electronic goods to cover the expense of collecting, dismantling and recycling electrical products.

A costly affair

The costs are estimated at between 500 euros and 7.5 bn euros a year. At least 10,000 manufacturers in Europe in would be affected. EU engineering lobby group Orgalime has estimated the cost to industry at up to 15 billion euros a year.

The dispute has been ignited not just over the costs, but also over whether companies should pay only for their own products or contribute to a collective pot.

In a key amendment, European Parliament said individual manufacturers should take responsibility only for their own products, rather than join a collective scheme with other firms to finance waste collection
and recycling, the approach preferred by EU member states.

Although arguably more complicated to arrange, the individual approach would ensure that responsible manufacturers do not end up paying to recycle products made by other companies which fail to pay up. The
individual method is supported by the industry lobby.

And as governments say they prefer the simpler collective financing scheme, the realisation of the law will now be up for negotiations.

And there are other matters connected to the new recycling law which need to be resolved.

With the new draft law on electrical goods, industry is pressing to avoid liablity for waste already on the market before the law comes into force. And then there remains the question what to do with products made by companies already out of business.

A rising environmental issue

Electrical goods are proving a rising envoironmental issue: Since 1998, more than 6 million tons of electrical waste has been produced in the EU each year - a figure which is rising. With the electronic
goods market booming, it is expected that by the end of the decade 8 per cent of all waste will be from these goods alone.

90 per cent of electrical waste is put into landfills or isincinerated a process which realeases tons of substances such mercury and cadmium into the air each year. In addition, electrical waste is the largest source of dioxin emissions in the atmosphere.

The EU is now hoping for change with the help of the manufacturers.

As Alex de Roo, a Dutch Green deputy, said in a statement, reported by Reuters, "It (the law) enshrines 'the polluter pays' principle firmly into European law."

With the polluter paying for for the disposal of their own goods, they will have a greater incentive to design products that are easier and cheaper to recycle. With the new law, consumers can now hope for products which may one day be both more environmentally friendly, and
cheaper.